As Christians, we do not observe the Sabbath. Really? No! We observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day, recalling that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. We may do well to remember that fact as we approach Easter. The Sabbath observes God’s act of creation. On Sunday, the Lord’s Day, we celebrates God’s act of new creation.
The key word is new. At the Last Supper, Jesus had talked about a new covenant – which by implication comes through the resurrection. The day of resurrection meant new responsibilities for the disciples – although it took at least until Pentecost for them to understand that fully.
When Jesus talked about a new covenant, he built on the Old Testament meaning of the term. In Jeremiah’s familiar reference to the new covenant, he made a clear distinction between laws written on tablets of stone and laws written on one’s heart.
Just as the disciples were slow to comprehend the full significance of that new covenant, we’re slow to accept the rich meaning Jesus intended with the term – an emphasis on God’s generous love. Our instinct is to rely on clear articulation of laws to define our priorities and guide our actions. We find it more difficult to define what’s right and what’s wrong when guided primarily by love.
In fact, it’s difficult for our innate legalism to comprehend how God dares to love and accept the sinner. Ultimately, we tend to judge others by our legalistic standards – rather than embrace God’s gracious willingness to forgive.
But that’s exactly what Jesus’ crucifixion proclaims. It’s a dramatic proclamation of God’s love for us – in spite of the sinfulness found in all of us. Jesus tried to tell us this with his carefully designed words at the Last Supper. As if in code, he said his body would be broken to heal our broken lives. He said his blood would be shed that our lives would be saved.
However, we still find this kind of spiritual generosity counter-intuitive. But remember, the repentant thief, beside Jesus on the cross, was able to affirm Jesus, without understanding fully the mystery of God’s love.
Indeed, later the Apostle Paul was to proclaim that God’s love came to us — “while we were yet sinners.” God’s love came to the repentant thief – and comes to each of us – whether we understand it or not.
In the Last Supper in the Upper Room, Jesus brought his disciples – and us – face to face with God’s love. Essentially, he offered a double gift. He offered forgiveness of our sins — and a new beginning, a new beginning in the sense our own spiritual resurrection.
Because our lives are imperfect, we need frequent opportunities for this double dose of renewal.
We need regular times to repent of our sins, our shortcomings – and in doing so to experience God’s forgiveness that’s beyond our ability to comprehend.
We also need frequent times to begin anew, to have our own spiritual resurrection.
Yes, God’s creation of our world was a stupendous thing. But God’s love for us – while we were yet sinners – is more stupendous.
As we approach Easter, may we remember the Last Supper when Jesus promised God’s unimaginable love that’s available to all of us to forgive our shortcomings.
May we also remember that every Sunday is a little “Lord’s Day” proclaiming God’s power of forgiveness seen dramatically in God’s power to raise Jesus from the dead.
Rev. William McCartney is a retired United Methodist minister and a professor emeritus of the Methodist Theological School.